Tag Archives: cancer

When You Follow Joy

As we head into the season of giving and receiving and joy and family it’s also a time for hilarity – at least at the Ward house. And, these days, the way we roll is to just let it go.

I want to illustrate with science fair. There will be time for elves later.

Those of you who know our family know that Davis and I are scientists by study, and certainly organized by nature, but it shocked even us to hear that the kids wanted to do science fair projects this year. All three of them. Even though all three aren’t required – below third grade – all three wanted to do it. Even though all three aren’t due until January 29th, they wanted to do it early. Sunday. And, even though there are only two parents, all three wanted a parent, all the time.

Emmy originally wasn’t going to do a project but then she thought about doing it, and thought about drawing a science book, and decided she should. She has a book she loves that shows the layers of the human body and she wanted to make it. One of my gifts is execution – helping achieve a certain vision. She had the vision – layers of plastic, held together with clips. She brainstormed the layers: blood/heart, tummy, skeleton, brain, skin, lungs. We drew it and then she wanted to make a board. And we did and it has typed out facts she dictated to me and stuck on the board and it looks like a six year old made it and she did. Maybe it looks like an eight year old made it. It’s amazing. Did you know it takes 20 seconds for blood to circulate through your body once?

Carter decided he needed to do something too – and they had just learned the planet song at school. SO, a model of the solar system. As we are in process on purchasing sytrofoam balls and a base and a board (2nd trip to Michaels if you’re counting) he says “And, Mom, the sun needs to light up.” Of course it does.

I ask at Michaels – thinking I can get a lamp if I need it, but no, now they have LED lights that you can put into objects after you “turn them on” so Carter has a glowing sun solar system – each planet painted, in order, and a board with facts. Did you know that Pluto is in the Kuiper Belt? Had you even heard of the Kuiper Belth?

We weren’t able to complete Carter’s project Sunday because the planets had to dry. On Monday when he got home from school all he wanted to do was finish the project. In fact, he started crying because he didn’t want to take piano lessons since he wanted to work on science fair “Mom, all I wa-a-ant to do is finish my so-o-lar s-s-system.” Tears streaming down his face.

Henry (from Davis) got the idea to test paper airplanes. Together, they developed 10 prototypes – each named and numbered, and a series of experiments: how far, how many and type of tricks, flight time, and weight it could carry. He flew paper airplanes for three hours straight. Data collection. Of course, he still hasn’t formulated a hypothesis, but he did some great drawings in his journal of his process – little stick Henry on the balcony with a little triangle plane – distances marked where known.

I couldn’t stop smiling all day. It was complete chaos – at one point I was whispering letters into Emmy’s ear for her resource list in her journal and turning to Carter and doing the same for his list (“P-A-P-E-R, Emmy and Carter B-A-L-L-S”. Davis and Henry went up and down the stairs in our house for hours – literally. It was a beautiful, organic, crazy day.

On that second trip to Michaels we met a frazzled family trying to determine which boards to use for a display. I asked if they were working on science fair. The Mom, exasperated, said YES, it’s so much work (in front of her kid and mine). I said “Yes, we are doing three projects at home right now. And we’re having a great time.” She said “I guess I shouldn’t complain about our one.”

I thought, you shouldn’t complain at all. You have a happy healthy family and a kid who wants to learn. Facilitating that may be annoying at times – we had tears, spent $50, and were exhausted just from Sunday – but the joy is infectious. Emmy has started bringing her book into class to show her friends. Some of the other kinder kids now want to do projects.

Happiness, despair, excitement – so much comes from within. I learned from my cancer battle that attitude is a huge chunk of the fight. So at the Ward house, we go with happy.

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The More Things Change

An exhilarating and exhausting October is behind me – the first since recovery, and therefore the first fundraiser (and success!) the first big speaking opportunity, the first month of remembrance for fallen sisters, the first real Halloween in a long time

I had my first girl’s night out with soccer Moms, drank too much at Halloween – sorry if I was a little bit loud fellow trick or treaters!), listened to my 8 year old son read an entire page of Chinese characters.

I am almost numb with gratitude. I realize that I was so lucky to have found it when I did. To have the support I do, To have my children the age they are. To have my husband. My family. Money.

There are days where cancer doesn’t even enter into my thoughts for hours. Where I live as though it was time before. But then I have a hurt back and I wonder – is that bone pain or muscle pain? Or I get a comment about Dubai – weren’t you going there? from a Duke interviewee. Or I look in the mirror and realize my bangs are longer than my hair used to be.

There are always shadows and some people it would forever alter in a bad way.

For me, I am altered and I haven’t sorted good and bad yet.

I went to a Pink Ribbon Cowgirls luncheon last week and it was hard – to go back to that raw place where even sneezing the wrong way can get you sick. It was humbling because my patient navigator addressed the fact that so many people had recurrences in October: statistically there is a massively higher rate of recurrence in the first 3-5 years after NED (no evidence of disease). We still don’t know why.

There’s a danger to being almost smug when you hear each individual story – one woman had it come back with a vengeance after a lumpectomy (I’m so smart I had a mastectomy on both sides I would crow!)one person had ovarian cancer come back and I think I’m so glad I had gene testing so I knew whether to do that or not.

It’s both a sense of empathy and a sense of relief. Profound relief.

At the end of the day – more than relief. Joy. Happy healthy kids. Happy healthy me. Biggest (real) worry is getting everyone to school on time, doing the best I can at my amazing job, helping my friends when they need me.

Biggest perceived worry, though … that will forever be different after cancer.

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Telling the kids

Many of you have been with me throughout this crazy journey, but for those of you late to the party, I told my kids about cancer the day my husband got home from Dubai. Which means Two days after my diagnosis, two days after our world got rocked, 4 months after we had decided to go to Dubai and one day after I realized I wasn’t necessarily going to die but it was going to be a helluva year.

I was asked to blog about it by a survivor here in the Central Texas area – here is her FB page: https://www.facebook.com/VictoriousValBreastCancerCrusaders

She is posting it tonight and I promised some cross promotion so here it is. Check it out. More later.

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I Don’t Know How She Does It

There have been a lot of comments about the similarities between the main character in the book and movie about the working Mom who does it all … and I have to admit I have been doing a lot. Between the hot pink hair dye party, speaking at a Komen event, hosting a party for 21 kids, making sure to please my children on their 6th birthday and prepping for Halloween, it’s been a busy two weeks.

But that’s not why I haven’t written.

I am scared to face a reality. My breast cancer could come back at any time. In any place.

Why on earth would I be worried about this in the middle of all this fun chaos? The lovely woman, Courtney, who wore my art bra last year (Hooter for those of you keeping track) to the event … who just got married … who is 33 and exercises like crazy and eats paleo and everything … found out her cancer is back last week.

And, for those of you who don’t know, when you have a bilateral mastectomy, breast cancer can come back – that’s why they don’t use the term remission – because it never really is ever totally gone. At five years they start breathing a sigh of relief – Courtney was a year 2.

And, when it comes back, it comes back in another part of your body – because, yes, you have no more breast tissue really so instead it comes back in your bones and liver and brain. Courtney now has breast cancer tumors in her liver.

And, when breast cancer comes back in another part of your body – because where else could it at this point, right? – it’s Stage 4. relative survival rate of 20% for 5-years. In and out of chemo, just trying to hold it off as long as possible.

Everyone thinks I’m brave, and yes, I had courage to fight something every day but I knew that it would work.

I am in pain right now – physically and emotionally for Courtney. I am scared for myself and my other survivor friends. I know I can’t dwell on it every day, but it is there in the shadows, and with Courtney’s diagnosis, I find myself thinking about it at least 5 times every day. at least.

When my mind wanders, it’s there. SO I don’t let my mind wander, I make pirate themed art bras for Davis to wear in front of total strangers. I host the soccer team end of year party with two hours notice, I pitch in to help with the Doss Chinese Immersion Advisory Council.

Even tomorrow, when I will fly to California to celebrate my Mom’s 70th birthday, I download three movies and two books because if there’s too much quiet time, I will slowly go mad. Or sad.

This last day of Pinktober, and Halloween, I don’t mean to scare you. I just mean to share – there are bigger things to fight. There are real things to be scared of, and there are also real heroes.

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The Two Part Post: Fundraising and the Last Step

Many of you already know, but for those of you only connected to me through my blog, I have been supported throughout this process by an amazing set of women at the Breast Cancer Resource Center of Texas. They run a support group for young women fighters/survivors called the Pink Ribbon Cowgirls and they have been AMAZING. My patient navigator, Runi … the effervescent and positive Robin, and of course my amazing supporters and friends in PRC.

I am fundraising for them this October. In an effort for people to think before the pink – BCRC founded #locallypink which is an opportunity for people to give in Austin to the organization that directly impacts people’s lives – my life was made better, stronger and certainly with more purpose because of these ladies and this organization.

They helped me create a fundly page: https://bcrc.fundly.com/team-ward-pink

All your donations go directly to people who need them. As you can see, I have already hit my 2nd stretch goal with the generosity of friends and family, but to quote Scrooged:

If you give, then it can happen…then the miracle can happen to you. It’s not just the poor and hungry, it’s everybody who’s got to have this miracle!! And if you like it and you want it you’ll get greedy for it…you’ll want it every day of your life, and it can happen to you. I believe in it now! I believe it’s gonna happen to me now, and I’m ready for it. It’s great!

So let’s keep on giving.

Now, the second and certainly lighter side of this post – next week I have my final reconstruction surgery. Nipples. Yup, I said it. I have no nipples and will next week. And is it weird that I’m so excited?

I feel like I have been hiding my body completely for over a year – not like I wander around naked or anything, but imagine being afraid that if your swimsuit falls down, you not only will embarrass yourself and the people around you with your wardrobe malfunction, you might permanently and irrevocably scar your children. I wear a bra all the time for fear there might be a non-nip slip. I just coined a new phrase.

I embrace my new figure and I try to encourage the same with the kids – Henry has an overbite, Emmy is tall, Carter is still missing his top teeth. I tell them everyone is different and special and some people have moles and some have freckles and some have innie belly buttons. BUT I just don’t want them to know that I don’t have nipples. Is that somehow wrong?

And last week I wondered, if I was on TV, would I be censored? I mean, I don’t have nipples and that seems to be the line that is drawn. Would there have been such an outcry if Janet Jackson looked like Barbie, nice and smooth?

By the way this is covered by insurance but we still have to pay out of pocket. I can’t wait to itemize next year. AND the next step – tattoos. More on that later!

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Because There’s Nothing to Complain About

I had a friend tell me during chemo that the zen-like attitude I had during treatment – I thought primarily induced through fatigue, sleep-laced anti nausea medicine and a general sense of heaviness – would stay with me. I didn’t believe her. BUT it’s true. I have mentioned it before, things don’t bother me as much. But I still complain – I just catch myself earlier. And I notice it in others.

Take this weekend. We had a fantastic weekend – jam packed with Texas traditions and silliness. On Friday night we attended a Chicken SH*&! Bingo party where you pay $1 to predict where the chicken will SH#@! We dressed as Texas trash. The hilarity was in me trying to not sound racially/economically/politically insensitive when trying to determine how to dress up. I ended up as Daisy Duke and Davis wore an A&M shirt with camo sweats. We had beers – I totally embarrassed myself by not knowing how to operate one – and banana pudding and NO we didn’t win but we ate lots of wings in retaliation.

I could have gotten uber upset when my amazing husband decided at 4.30 to go shopping for the next days campout. And took over an hour. Or when Emmy decided that she “couldn’t breathe” and it turned out she was making herself so upset she couldn’t catch her breath. And there was the rising tide of frustration. But, it went away. I realized my hubby is remarkable for pitching in on the cooking on the campout and Emmy inherited a super strong sense of empathy.

The next morning, we had soccer. At 8am. After beers and parties and Davis staying up late to make homemade sloppy joes. At what seemed an ungodly hour, I awoke and peered over to realize that it was already 7am. I was supposed to be at the soccer field at 7.30 to line them.

I could have gotten upset because HOW the BLEEP would we get out of the house in 15 minutes?? Even though Carter slept in his soccer uniform?? But I threw food at the kids, pushed them into their soccer clothes and texted the other coach. I got there and guess what – the field was already lined. With my mocha in hand, I coached my team to a hard fought awesomely close game with Davis in charge of the 5 minute subouts.

Wew came home to pack the swagger wagon to the gills for Davis and Henry’s first campout. The rest of us were going to spend the day at Cub O Ree swimming, playing, doing activities, etc. Of course we get there, no signage, wander around for what seems like 2 miles until we find the campsite. Carter immediately steps in a fire ant mound (I would later count 16 bites) and Davis had to set up the tent because there was imminent rain.

SO I took the three kids to the activities – which turned out to be a handful of amazing things – rock climbing! archery! BB guns! that had lines over an hour – and a handful of carnival type games that took 5 minutes. We traipsed all over, having forgotten water bottles – but the kids did great. I heard parent after parent snapping at their kids – go faster! stop complaining! Instead we laughed when it rained so hard it washed our sweat off and stole plastic cups from the archery range.

Oh, and then I go tthe car stuck in the mud. Hilarously, it was probably the best place on the planet to get stuck. All these adult boy scouts running around fighting over who was going to tow me out and teaching each other how to tie a bowlon tie with a fie hose – who has a pocket knife? You don’t? Then of course we had to take the car through the car wash while it was raining to get all the mud off. Did I mention it was Davis’ car?

I realize I’m not perfect, I’m going to lose my cool – and I do. But I realize it so much earlier, especially with the kids. And the fact that in comparison, the fact that I was able to hike 2 miles in 95 degree weather is astounding. The fact that I had enough hair to get wet and sweaty is awesome. There really is nothing to complain about.

POSTSCRIPT

I am raising money this month for the Breast Cancer Resource Center of Austin – home of my beloved Pink Ribbon Cowgirl friends and treatment buddies, as well as my amazing patient navigator Runi and the other amazing resources – wigs! tote bags! free yoga!

This month, you will have a lot of chances to give pink – but think about where you are giving your money. If you support BCRC 100% of the money goes to service their over 2600 clients in Central Texas. I am a client. And, in return, we have a few personal goals – I will dye my hair pink if I reach my first goal … Davis will wear a pink art bra if I reach my second goal … and he and I will walk the runway in matching bras Oct 29th if I reach my new goal. I am expecting big things. I get prizes for most supporters, most money raised, most unique donors, etc. Bring it on!

https://bcrc.fundly.com/team-ward-pink

 

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Praise for a Rainy Friday

oh how I have missed the rain. In Austin we have rain about once a quarter – a sight so rapidly diminished by global warming that the principal had to send out a special alert all message today about how to pick up your child in the rain. STAY IN THE CAR it read. The dog cowers in the corner, and hubby has to go get leaves off the rain gutters in his all weather gear, but I rejoice. Because not only does this mean I won’t get dinged for not watering the garden all week Davis was out, it also means we might not play that team of ringers tomorrow on the soccer field.

To recap, life is normal again although schedulng an appointment to get nipples was a little out of the ordinary. How will I feel during the surgery? “Like you’ve had a few margaritas” – whee and new nipples?!

I celebrate my new job – at which I am actually quite good, and had my first “inquiry” which means the next step in this sales funnel thing that I’m doing. Regardless, I am enjoying it, and finding that there are advantages to being old – I mean seasoned – I have a network and you don’t. I’m not cheating I just have gone through more junk and have a nice perk – friends in high places. Occasionally.

Henry and I spent two hours last weekend on Chinese homework. There were tears – and not just from Henry. Ni jao wo ma ming sur?  I think I am asking What is your name, but really I had to picture his teacher wielding a ninja sword and jumping on a pogo stick to get “lao sur” in my head. This is hard. Henry wanted to quit. I wouldn’t let him. I said – you don’t get to quit when things are hard. You don’t get to leave the field. And you know what, he got 100% on his quiz today. Yes, they had a quiz and he is in 2nd grade and most of the class is 7. That’s another conversation.

Carter has discovered a game on the ipad called mindsnacks Mandarin – a friend’s recommendation. One of the “levels” is to connect the dots on a little cube indicating which way the accent mark goes on a word. Does it go down? Up? Straight across? Or like a little V? I couldn’t even tell what the dots meant. He has now reached the 21st star in under 3 minutes. I have no idea what any of that means.

Emmy and I went to JoAnn fabrics – Mommy can we go to the store where we get all the craft activities like the elephant that I sewed together? In the plethora of options for her to choose under $10 she chose to pick a soccer outfit for her American girl doll. We got home and she burst into tears because she thought the shoes wouldn’t fit. They did, but after we had tot ake the teeny tiny shoelaces off and then retie them. Next thing I know whe’s drawn and illustrated a globe and can sing Head Shoulder Knees and Toes in Mandarin.

And, I finally called the electrician – we have four new light fixtures installed and canned lights that make me happy to see them and a whole bunch of holes in our ceiling that I will need to get patched.

I carried a new fan out of Home Depot and Emmy was with me – on the JoAnn run – “Mommy I think you are getting much stronger since you had the cancer bugs”.

I find I don’t even think about it daily – until I see myself in the mirror or my sore left muscle gives me a little ping. Everything changes and the more it stays the same.

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